The End ResultUltimate Ears generously provided me with two of their products to try out; at first, the $249 super.fi 5 Pro, and then, much to my surprise, offered to make me a set of the custom-made $900 UE-10 Pro. Having used several in-ear headphones before, I figured making a fair comparison would be easy. I was wrong. With products this good in your ears, being fair is actually very difficult. My first instinct was to tell everybody I know about these great products.
The super.fi 5 Pro has a sound signature that reminds me of a much-refined version of the Shure E5. Deep, textured bass and silky smooth high end response are the first things I noticed; listening longer, I started to listen to details I had never heard before.
Fit is subjective on any earpiece, since everyone is different; for me, the super.fi 5 Pro was comfortable right out of the packaging. I didn't notice any major issues; however, I found that reversing the earpieces on the cords allowed for a much closer and tighter fit. Your mileage may vary, but one thing is certain: the sound quality of the super.fi 5 Pro is remarkable for its price point. Sound engineers, musicians looking to enter the in-ear world, and casual listeners alike can all find a great place for the super.fi 5 Pros. Speaking as someone who understands the need to use the best technology and still adhere to a budget, the super.fi line is a great way to get set up in extremely high quality audio reproduction and not break the bank. It also has one distinct advantage over a custom product: if you find that the idea of wearing in-ear headphones doesn't work out well for you, or for some reason (I'll go with "insanity") you don't like the sound quality, you can always resell them later.
On to the UE-10 Pro. After a quick visit to a local audiologist, my impressions were on their way to California. Ultimate Ears was amazing the whole way through; customer service specialist extraordinaire Brad Jensen was there during the whole process, answering my questions whenever I had them. Dealing with Ultimate Ears as a company makes you feel very comfortable, enough so that you realize very quickly that they care about their customer base far after the check clears. They also treat every client - multi-platinum or garage rocker - respectfully and equally.
I picked up the UE-10 Pros at my local FedEx depot, and I couldn't help but open them in the car. In the words of Mike Dias, Ultimate Ears' artist relations guy (and gear enthusiast like the rest of us), their custom made products are a work of art. And on first glance at the UE-10 Pros, Mike was spot-on with this description.
Sound quality on the UE-10 Pros is truly remarkable. While they retain the favorable detail of the super.fi 5 Pro, the difference is stunning, almost like a blanket being lifted off of your ears. Bass response is extremely detailed and textured, which may leave the first impression of them a little bass-shy; however, as you get used to the sound signature, you'll notice layers of the low end you never knew existed, and detail coming out all around. Surprisingly, the triple-driver design makes a huge difference in what you can perceive in the soundstage. Having the low-end spread out between two drivers per ear makes details that were previously buried under low-end information come out, not to mention the quality of UE's proprietary high driver.
Vocals and strings pop out with lifelike reality; acoustic guitar sounds textured and deep, and bad recording techniques become apparent under the UE-10 sound, which makes them perfect studio monitors. Piano and organ textures have shocking realism. Soundstage is fantastic vocals and other mid-range information seem to come out front, separated from low-end information completely. UE's design makes every song seem realistic, as if it's being performed right alongside you. The custom-fit was perfect right out of the box, as well.
The UE-10 is equally best suited for recording, mixing, and hi-fi audiophile-quality listening as it is for use on the stage. In fact, I've used them in my home studio since they day they arrived, turning my usual monitors on only once. They easily outperform monitor systems that cost much more, to my ears.
I also tested the UE-10 with a traditional wireless in-ear monitor system. Standing on the side of the stage during a Guster performance, monitor engineer Justin Cohen's in-ear mixes sounded pristine through a Shure PSM 700 wireless beltback. The depth of frequency response of the UE-10 really shows through when listening to a mix specifically EQed for them .
These products are phenomenal for the price, and it's clear that Ultimate Ears offers priceless customer service, and a product for every taste and budget.
What's next for Ultimate Ears? Read on.